Cartoon image of man stuttering

More than 70 million folks worldwide, including 3 million Americans, stutter–that is, they have difficulty with the starting and timing of speech resulting in involuntary repetition or silent pauses/blocks. Celebs like presidential candidate Joe Biden, actor extraordinaire James Earl Jones, former basketball star Shaquille O’Neal and game show host Wayne Brady have forged through their condition and now serve as inspiration for the stuttering community.

Stuttering which is referred to as stammering can also be a new condition for some seniors due to the following reasons:

Changes in the brain–Folks who begin stuttering later in life might have developed neurological issues. Strokes for example, can alter certain sections of the brain that control language processing and the correct formulation of words. A sudden fall or blow to the head that results in a concussion can also bring on the speech disorder. Dementia and Alzheimer’s can cause neurological changes that affect the flow of speech.

Prescribed medication–Stuttering can occur after taking a prescribed medication. If the speech disorder is a side effect of a medication, contact your doctor immediately. The physician can prescribe a new drug or change the dosage to relieve the side effect. Stuttering may stop after the medication is altered.

Fatigue–Extreme levels of stress and fatigue can bring on stuttering. Look for ways to dial back events in your life that exhaust you mentally or physically. If you lack sleep, look into various methods of relaxation that will help you unwind like yoga, massage or meditation.

Other health issues–Ailments that affect the mouth, jaw, throat, or gums makes it difficult to pronounce words. Canker sores, tumors, cysts are obstructions that can limit speech.

Stuttering can resurface–Anxiety or chronic depression can trigger verbal expression difficulties. If someone stuttered as a child, the problem may resurface years later if they are dealing with feelings of confusion, anxiety, loneliness or uncertainty.

Stuttering for no reason–Not all stuttering will have an identifiable cause or can be explained; this type of stuttering is categorized as idiopathic.

Stuttering can impact all areas of life and can fluctuate, evolve, disappear, reappear, and completely reinvent itself. While there is no “cure” for stuttering, there are various treatment options that may help people who stutter. Help for people who stutter should be tailored to the individual and the following suggestions might be helpful:

  • Speak slowly, deliberately and pause between sentences
  • Avoid words that may cause you to stammer (make a list of the difficult to pronounce words and use alternatives)
  • Consider mindfulness meditation to reduce anxiety and stress
  • Consider seeing a speech therapist to help treat the issue. Research suggests that speech therapy is the best treatment for both adults and children who stutter, with a large body of evidence supporting its efficacy.
  • Discuss with your doctor the medications used to treat stuttering (Xanax, Celexa, Anafranil).
  • Self-help groups can connect stutterers with one another. They can offer emotional support and share helpful resources. Contact the National Stuttering Association’s list of local chapters.